NASA scientists believe the current generation of elementary school students could be the first to colonize the moon and mars. When it comes to inspiring kids to learn about space exploration, the opportunities of the future are truly endless.
As an instructor, space education is an important window to get kids excited about fields such as engineering, technology, robotics, science and math; fields destined to shape the earth and beyond. Learning about space not only builds a strong science base, but it can inspire creativity and curiosity that translates to other areas of a child’s education. That curiosity is what generates new ideas and breakthroughs, and is sought after in the professional world.
Space camp can be the perfect way to inspire a kid into space exploration. Camps such as the one at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center give kids a hands-on adventure by training them to live and work in outer space. Kids test their knowledge on simulated shuttle missions, and experience what zero-gravity and lift off force feel like for astronauts. Kids create rockets, do experiments and learn about NASA and space exploration history.
Space camp gets kids working with a hands-on creative approach to their education. If getting a kid to space camp isn’t possible than any instructor can create a space camp in the classroom. Start by mapping the major space exploration events on a timeline. Engage with students about the space race and space missions such as Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. Get kids excited about how far the space program has come since its creation, and get them guessing about the next 50 years of exploration. Use the NASA online history page as a resource for students to write small reports or biographies for important dates in space history.
After reviewing the history of the space program talk about where the space program is today. NASA has a list of its current missions, and you can track current missions on NASA TV.
The landing of the Mars Curiosity Rover in August was a major achievement. It was the 40th mission from Earth to the red planet, but only 16 of those have been successful. The two-year mission is trying to find evidence of organic life in hopes of understanding when it ended, and what it could mean for Earth. Follow along with students on its route as it sends back live photos and data on the Mars Science Laboratory website.
Since it is often hard for kids to understand something they can’t see, teachers and parents should get students working hands-on as often as possible. Space will seem more interesting and real if students can use their imagination to create and problem solve.
This NASA designed project will get kids working on some basic physics concepts, the scientific process and problem solving skills. Students will be charged with designing, constructing and testing a landing system for the Orion space capsules and the “eggstronauts.”
- Raw egg
- Plastic cup
- Rubber bands
- Cotton balls
- Flexible straws
- 3×5 card
- Sandwich bag (eggstronaut “spacesuit”)
- Kitchen plastic bag
- Three feet of masking tape
1. Students should be assembled into teams of three or four and given a pack of the materials plus several eggs. The egg should go into the sandwich bag as a spacesuit, and as a way to contain any accidental mess.
2. Each group should get 20 minutes to try and cushion their egg inside the plastic cup and create a landing system with the plastic bag or other materials.
- If students need help, you can suggest using a balloon to cushion the impact of landing
- Parachute strings could be created using the balloon and string taped to the cup
- Rubber bands could be used to absorb landing shock
- Straws could be placed to crumple and collapse on impact
3. When students are done with the design and construction phase they can move on to test their space capsule. Eggs will be dropped from a high place onto a hard surface. A second floor window onto a sidewalk is ideal, but a ladder and a gym floor will also work.
- The person dropping the capsule should countdown before dropping the egg
- Be mindful of wind, and alter the direction the capsule is tossed if needed
- If an egg is damaged, students should undergo an analysis of the problem before discarding the egg
4. After completing the drop tests, teams should evaluate their landing system. Have teams write and illustrate what worked, what didn’t and why? Students should describe their system, the materials they used, damage during the test and conclusions.
As a parent or teacher there are few subjects with so much room for creativity and new ideas. Inspiring youth about space education is a powerful way to equip students with a solid science background in a topic that is fun and exciting to learn about. The future of space exploration is important to our planet, and it is important we get the world’s best and brightest on the same mission.
Consider exploring these resources for more space education ideas:
“The Space Place” has a list of information and activities that would be great for classroom research and exploration.
The European Space Agency created its own educational website that is equipped with some fun games and a Space Station camera.
This PBS network website includes a list of top space stories to keep reader up to date on news, and lots of great photos and videos covering topics such as space exploration, technology and missions.
The Denver Museum of Nature and Science also has a great list of teacher resources including activities and curriculum that are grade-specific.